Usher-ed into 'The Voice'

Published on Monday, 10 March 2014 00:00 - Written by STEWART SMITH ssmith@tylerpaper.com

It doesn’t matter if Stevie Jo Rosenbalm doesn’t go the distance as a contestant on TV’s “The Voice,” just making it on that stage and getting Usher to turn around and pick him for the team was more than Rosenbalm ever dreamed.

“When I set out on this journey to get on ‘The Voice,’ my only expectation and goal was just to make it to the blind audition and give a performance that I could be happy with in front of those four judges,” he said in a telephone interview with the Tyler Morning Telegraph on Monday afternoon. “Really, I wasn’t even putting stock in the fact that I would, for sure, turn a chair around. So the fact that I am on Team Usher now, that already blows my goal out of the water. I’ve already surpassed my expectations. It’s just a blessing.”

Rosenbalm, a Tyler native through and through, as he was born at Trinity Mother Frances, took the bold step of singing a number by R&B superstar Usher. It’s a risk that paid off in spades, though, as it resulted in the coach swiveling his chair around and selecting Rosenbalm for his team. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, Rosenbalm said.

“I didn’t focus too much on the fact that I was singing it for him, because I think whatever song you end up choosing, no matter if it’s a coach’s song or not, you have to sing it and make sure it lives up to the expectation of whatever artist it is,” he said. “I thought it was really cool, though, that I was singing an Usher song to Usher.”

Now that the blind audition has passed, Rosenbalm said things have evened out for him mentally. He’s more comfortable with himself and he’ll never be as nervous as he was the very first time he stepped out on stage to face a row of chair backs.

“It was just surreal. It was a crazy experience. I was just trying to focus on not forgetting lyrics and put in the performance I needed to get the result that I got,” he said. “That song is one that I had been practicing for weeks. Before that, I knew the song and had sung it for people before the competition. So for the few weeks before the blind (audition), it was all about the performance and just trying to get the crowd into it. It was a lot of work going into it. … I got nervous after I started singing because just looking at the back of the chairs was something that was really trying to psyche me out.”

“The Voice” is a show that makes a point of paying special attention to its contestants’ vocal prowess, making sure the judges aren’t even facing the singers as they belt out their auditions. This, however, can make it unexpectedly difficult for singers expecting to have a reaction by which to gauge their performance.

“It’s such a good thing for the show, where you can only judge the voice, but at the same time, when you start singing for them, you start thinking, ‘Are they going to turn? Are they going to turn? I have to make them turn!’ So some people try to do too much and I was just trying to keep it together, really,” Rosenbalm said.

Reality shows searching for the next vocal sensation aren’t difficult to come by, but Rosenbalm said it was no contest deciding to audition for “The Voice.”

“I did my research, and it turns out that ‘The Voice’ has the best reviews, not just in terms of popularity, but in terms of how they treat their contestants and the family mentality that is really present,” he said. “So I tried out in Austin. I was nervous that day, too. I got a callback. Then I got another callback. There are some hoops you’ve really got to jump through. But I got there and I just couldn’t be more happy with the results.”

That sense of camaraderie and family was a major draw for Rosenbalm, and it’s something that has sustained him, though it was initially intimidating.

“Everyone you see on those episodes, they’re usually good friends with each other and we like to interact. We like to hear each other playing. The sheer amount of talent was mind-blowing, and kind of discouraging in a way,” he said. “It was intimidating to see that much talent in one place. But at the same time, everyone really supports each other.”

And while he sounded effortless in his crooning of “There Goes My Baby” last week, it may not be the sound that some from Rosenbalm’s younger days are familiar with. He got his start in music by playing drums and singing in garage rock bands.

“Drums are my first love. I just love rhythm and the drums and all the things you can do with it. That’s what called me to R&B, because when I was singing and playing drums, we had a little bit of getting gigs and stuff,” he said. “But once the band broke up, I couldn’t really play drums anymore because you can’t really play drums. R&B vocals are packed full of those rhythmic aspects that really intrigue me.”

Competition will remain fierce as the show advances, but Rosenbalm said he’s been blown away by the support and reactions he’s received so far, both from home and abroad.

“I’ve been getting so much love and support from social media. And not just social media. When I’m out in town, I’ve had people already asking me for autographs and take pictures. It’s only been six days,” he said “My friends are like, ‘You really deserve this.’ It’s so awesome to get the support of the community. It makes me feel like I’m going in the right direction.”

Rosenbalm’s audition song, “There Goes My Baby” can be downloaded via iTunes.